What seduction the guillotine holds over the ""nail through the ear"" or the Iron Maiden is not exactly common knowledge. Nor are the virtues of the rack versus the pendulum likely candidates for routine conversation. But capital punishment is often discussed: Should state-decreed death be abolished or expanded? According to Abbott, before the public can come to any decision, it is essential that all the facts of the different methods be known. Enter this encyclopedic guide to the ultimate penalty. In 69 entries, ranging from a single paragraph to 30 pages in length, Abbott recounts not only the grisly facts, but also the colorful myths, mysteries and bloopers behind criminal executions. For example, guillotine inventor Joseph Ignace Guillotin was born prematurely when the future inventor's mother was frightened into labor by the screams of a man being ""Broken on the Wheel."" Bumbling executioners, from clumsy axmen to wayward firing squads, are also brought to comic light. Abbott tackles the question of life after decapitation, the type of gas in the gas chamber and the kind of injection in the lethal injection. Presumably, years spent greeting tourists as a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London gave Abbott his knack for anticipating interests, and his previous book, The Executioner Always Chops Twice, gave him practice with the impish prose he uses to make doom and gloom read glibly. But this is no page-turner, it's a novelty dictionary horror buffs and the morbidly curious will enjoy flipping through.